- The Redskins have a dominant right outside linebacker in Brian Orakpo, but they need to improve on the other side. (Photo: Associated Press)
Yesterday we took a look at the Redskins’ need for a nose tackle and the options that could present themselves this offseason through the NFL draft or free agency. Another glaring need is a pass-rushing outside linebacker to complement Brian Orakpo, who is headed for his second straight Pro Bowl.
Orakpo was one of the few players that didn’t struggle in the switch from the 4-3 to the 3-4. The Redskins converted Andre Carter and Lorenzo Alexander from defensive end to linebacker, and it was a learning experience for both and neither provided the production that was needed to give Washington balance on the edges. Carter doesn’t expect to be back this coming year, but Alexander -- who had a slightly smoother transition -- is already back to training so he can further program his body to be able to more effectively play the outside linebacker position.
Still, the Redskins could look to address that left outside linebacker spot this offseason. They have options that include in-house talent, draft prospects and free agency.
If it’s players that are already on the roster, Washington could bank on a second year at the position benefiting Alexander, or they could give Rob Jackson a shot. Alexander told me this week that he is leaning up even more (in the last years, he went from being a defensive lineman that tipped the scales at around 300 pounds, to being a linebacker that weighs around 275 pounds. He’ll likely be even lighter this year. The training program he is on also is helping him become faster and more explosive while also sharpening his reflexes. Alexander says he is confident he can be a force next season.
If the Redskins reduce Alexander to a backup role, however, they could look at Jackson, who showed promise in the final two games of the season after spending the first 14 on the practice squad. In the Jacksonville game, he was as disruptive as Orakpo had been while playing at the right outside linebacker spot. He registered a sack and a forced fumble and was held frequently. In the final game of the year, he and Orakpo lined up opposite each other on third downs times. A sign of things to come?
Despite those in-house options, it still wouldn’t be shocking at all to see the Redskins bring in more talent at the linebacker position.
The top outside linebackers in the draft are Texas A&M's Von Miller, UCLA's Akeem Ayers and Georgia's Justin Houston.
Miller has been a sack machine for the Aggies the last two years. He had 17 in 2009 and 11 this past season. The 6-foot-3, 243-pound senior also recorded 68 tackles and an interception this past year. Miller played in the 3-4 in college, which would help ease his transition to the NFL. He has great quickness, and that served him well in college, but in the NFL, he will have to develop more tools other than just speed to beat blockers.
Ayers is a 6-4, 255-pound junior that is believed to have a first-round grade. He recorded 68 tackles this past year, but only four sacks. He needs to get stronger and improve his tackling skills and become more disciplined, but has good aggression and versatility, which also includes being solid in pass coverage.
Houston is a 6-foot-3, 258-pound junior that recorded 56 tackles and 10 sacks for Georgia this past year. He isn’t projected to be a top 10 grade, however, so Washington wouldn’t likely spend that No. 10 pick on him. The only likely way he would be an option would be if they were to trade down and he was still available. Houston has played both outside linebacker and defensive end. He's strong, quick and athletic and is a strong pass-rusher. He often bites on the first thing he sees and ends up getting burned on screens, however, and isn't the greatest in pass coverage.
If the Redskins opt not to take an outside linebacker in the first round, it could be because they believe they can address the position in free agency -- whenever the CBA is agreed to and they are allowed to sign free agents.
The top OLB expected to be on the market is Kansas City's Tamba Hali, who already is used to playing in the 3-4 and this past year recorded 52 tackles and 14.5 sacks. The 27-year-old, the fifth-year veteran does play the same position as Orakpo, however, so someone would have to switch from the right to left side.
Another free agent to be that could be a fit is Pittsburgh's LaMarr Woodley. Obviously, he is another prospect that would be able to come right in with a good feel for the 3-4, if he even wants to leave Pittsburgh. The fourth-year veteran this past season had 50 tackles and 10 sacks as well as two interceptions. He has recorded double-digit sacks in each of the last three seasons. Woodley already plays on the left side, which would mean he naturally would line up opposite the spot that Orakpo already mans.
Obviously, the in-house or draft options would come at a cheaper price than would free agency. Which will the Redskins choose?